Member profile - Jens Sommer-Knudsen

I was recently diving at a well-known Sydney dive spot, called Shiprock, on the Hacking River, south of Sydney. Shiprock is a unique marine environment, in a country full of unique marine environments. The reason for the dive was to take photos for another iNaturalist project, the Sydney Sea Slug Census November 2022. (https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/sydney-sea-slug-census-november-2022). If you cannot find a sea slug at Shiprock, you’re not trying.
While drifting around, slightly shivering, I had two thoughts. Firstly, I was thinking about the attraction of citizen science and how important observations of life on the planet can be to promoting our understanding of the world. Diving in cold water, looking for tiny nudibranch can be uncomfortable work, but it was still personally rewarding. Secondly, I thought about how fortunate I was to be able to pursue such citizen science projects so close to Sydney. As I was born overseas, I could appreciate how fortunate we are to have intriguing locations, so close to a major city. This view is often expressed by AF members, especially those who originate from overseas, and who learned to dive in less diverse environments. An example is the subject of this Bio Blurb project member, Dr. Jens Sommer-Knudsen (view Jens' profile). Jens has 1,200 observations in Australasian Fishes, covering 535 species, however, for iNaturalist he has recorded 3,465 observations and assisted in 4,545 identifications.
As you might guess, Jens has always been interested in science, technology and the natural world, growing up in Denmark (and initially Germany) and obtaining a SCUBA license at age 16. He began diving in Denmark and Sweden, with a long break until he moved to Australia in 1992. The rest, as they say, is history.
Jens tells us, “Initially I was considering a career in marine science but enrolled in a degree in chemical engineering as back then job prospects were better in chemistry. However, I still gravitated towards biology and specialized in biochemistry and downstream processing, purifying proteins from biological materials. After graduation I started working in industry in a company producing agarose (a hydrogel used in life science research and biotechnology) from seaweed, but after a couple of years I returned to academia, first doing research on molecular plant pathology before getting a scholarship at The University of Melbourne and doing a PhD in molecular biology and biochemistry at the School of Botany. At university I joined the diving club and got involved in the committee and went diving on a regular basis; I even bought a Nikonos IV and took photos until it flooded (one day I might dig up my old photos and post them on iNat…). My career has since taken me back and forth between industry and universities and I now do research and consulting in the life sciences, especially pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, biomaterials and food. Recently I have also become involved in a company focusing on making products from cultured Australian seaweeds.”
Diving has become a passion for Jens, already diving in around 30 different countries and overseas territories. Like me, he has developed an appreciation for what Australia has to offer in diversity, telling us, “I have dived or snorkeled in all states and territories apart from Canberra; the biological diversity in this country is amazing and I don’t think there are any other countries where you can see so many different aquatic species. I am trying to dive as many places in Australia as possible and have so far done a lot on the eastern coastline down from Tasmania (including King Island and Flinders Island) up through Victoria, NSW (including Lord Howe Island), Queensland (e.g. Heron Island, Lady Musgrave and the Coral sea on a liveaboard), Norfolk Island, snorkeling in billabongs in the NT (very selectively…), diving on Ningaloo Reef, the Navy pier in Exmouth, Rottnest Island down further south and a bit of snorkeling in South Australia.”
What is equally as impressive about Jens is his dedication to citizen science. While I contribute photos as time allows, Jens has truly made citizen science an active part of his life. He joined the Underwater Research Group of NSW some years ago and tries to participate in as many citizen science projects as possible. He tells us, “I joined URG because of my interest in marine research as well as to learn more about marine biology. URG is one of the few dive clubs that “dive with a purpose”, which I find very appealing. I have recently been appointed the research officer and am now trying to expand our academic and industry contacts to develop, or be a part of, new research projects with high impact. URG NSW was founded in 1956 and the club has some valuable historical observations, including, for example, 12-hour surveys conducted at Shiprock all the way back in 1966 (https://www.urgdiveclub.org.au). A number of members are certified for Reef Life Surveys (RLS) (https://reeflifesurvey.com) which is a quite challenging, but rewarding citizen science activity, generating data that gets included in scientific publications. Some very experienced URG members regularly train aspiring RLS divers to become proficient in conducting these surveys and participate in RLS surveys not only around Sydney but also places like Jervis Bay and Lord Howe Island. URG has a dive boat that can take up to 6 divers and a skipper, and it is used nearly every weekend (weather permitting) for various research projects as well as pleasure dives. In addition, the club and its members are involved in other projects such as Dragons of Sydney (Weedy Sea Dragons), Sea Slug census, Grey Nurse Projects and a number of our members also contribute to the Shiprock project, as well as clean-up dives. In the past we have been involved in Marine Debris surveys, Balmoral net marine growth monitoring, collecting cuttlefish eggs for university research projects, and more. For future projects we are, amongst other things, looking at getting involved in monitoring biodiversity at marinas, assisting research and surveys relating to seaweeds and potentially looking at some marine archaeology projects as well. Outside of URG I have participated in Citizen science projects in Victoria (e.g., invasive sea stars in Port Phillip Bay), recording marine biodiversity in East Timor (Timor Leste) and participating in coral reef restauration in Indonesia.”
Jens’s diving has been worked in with his professional schedule and other factors such as lockdowns. He tries to go diving at least a couple of times every month and takes one or two dive trips to other parts of NSW and Australia every year. Even when diving for fun, Jens says, “Whenever I find some interesting observations or good photos, I post them on iNat. I learned about iNat from other members of URG, and my first postings were from Shiprock. One of the aspects of participating in a citizen science project, such as Australasian Fishes, that I really like, is that one can contribute to expanding knowledge about distribution of marine species and help to document the effects of warming of the ocean. Many research projects have limited resources to do surveys, and this is definitely an area where citizen scientists can provide a very significant and important input – quite a few projects would not work without the commitment and effort of volunteer scientists! I have personally had the good luck to have some of my observations included in local field guides, and in some cases I have observed species that had not previously been seen in those locations and as such documented an extension of the known range. I think it is great that iNat encourages so many people and citizen scientists to become interested in, and document the natural world. While it can be a bit daunting to identify observations at first, one would be surprised how quickly one learns and sometimes it can become a bit of an obsession to be able to figure out what rare species one has found… I now have a significant library of books to help me identify the species I find, but even then, I occasionally manage to find species that are not described in the books – which is quite exciting… When this happens, there is very often an experienced iNaturalist contributor who can help identify these cryptic species. I’m still amazed by the extensive knowledge some of the members have and how willing they are to share their knowledge and time – it really feels like your part of a dedicated and friendly community!”
While I am grateful that Australian Fishes is a successful citizen science project and that it has attracted people like Jens to contribute to our growing database, learning about members such as Jens, is very inspirational. Such participants have seamlessly integrated citizen science into their own lives, finding the occasional synergy with their professional endeavours as well as their individual hobbies, interests and passions. There is no doubt that the efforts of individuals like Jens, and organizations like URG, along with other citizen research groups, will pay massive dividends as the databases grow and the periods of study and observations increase. Like Jens, I have heard from other project members who actively seek opportunities to expand their engagement in citizen science, finding both enjoyment and personal fulfillment from recording, in a meaningful way, the natural environment for current and future study. At Australasian Fishes, we hope to publicize more of such opportunities, where members can join other projects and contribute to science to the extent they desire. I’d write more, but I see a sea slug which needs to be recorded.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Publicado el noviembre 28, 2022 12:39 MAÑANA por markmcg markmcg

Comentarios

Thanks for writing such a nice bio Harry. Also a big thank you to you and Mark for creating and maintaining Australasian Fishes - such a great project!

Publicado por jenssommer01 hace alrededor de 1 año

Thank you @jenssommer01 :)

Publicado por markmcg hace alrededor de 1 año

It was my pleasure, i learned a great deal.

Publicado por harryrosenthal hace alrededor de 1 año

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